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Assistant Professor Wayne Schmadeka


First-Generation Students

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Wayne Schmadeka, Assistant Professor
College of Humanties & Social Science

As was common at that time, after completing the eighth grade, my father left school to work on the farm.

       My father was one of twelve children. Together, the family farmed thousands of acres on central Idaho’s fertile Camus Prairie. As was common at that time, after completing the eighth grade, my father left school to work on the farm. My mother’s family farmed in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Her mother suffered from malaria in Arkansas, and her father from gout in Oklahoma. The family moved between farms, to give one parent or the other some relief. My mother also left school after eighth grade. Years later, the Great Depression drove my parents from Idaho to Portland, Oregon, with their four daughters, where there was steady wartime work in the shipyards and factories.

       I was born after the move to Portland, and grew up in a working-class neighborhood. On Christmas of my fourth year, I was shot in the eye with a BB by an older neighbor boy. The eye was damaged, but not removed. I relied heavily on my hearing. While my mother often read aloud to me, it wasn’t until the end of the fourth grade that I began to learn to read. Before that, I did not even understand that one reads from left to right and top to bottom of a page. Prior to learning to read, I was not a good student, was often mischievous, more interested in playing and fighting than studying. These early warning signs suggested that trouble might be brewing. Apparently my parents saw something better for me than these warning signs suggested. My mother indoctrinated me with the idea that I must complete college. I did not know what college was, except that it meant I would have endure a lot of school. I was not thrilled, but, at an early age, resolved to attempt to follow her guidance.

       Our neighbors, Jim and Anna Wiggins, were childless. Often, after eating a meal at home, I went next door and ate again with Jim and Anna. Jim had a hard life. He left home when he was a boy of only 10 or 12, and found work in the coal mines of North Carolina. At the age of 57, the coal dust of his childhood finally choked the life out of him. Over time, the dust formed balls of tar in his lungs. Gangrene set in, first in his toes, which the surgeons had to remove. His oxygen-poor blood left him susceptible to more gangrene, and the surgeons cut again, and again, and again. The amputations finally stopped mid thigh. Jim never complained. Between hands of Gin Rummy, he talked about the lessons of his life, the importance of going to college, and the trust fund he had set up for my education.

       With thanks to my parents for their guidance and encouragement, and for the generous gift of a loving neighbor, I became a first-generation college graduate.


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Last updated or reviewed on 9/30/14

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